Demjanjuk Has Until Monday to Decide on Replacing Defense Counsel; Postponement Bid Refused

The Jerusalem District Court hearing the case of suspected war criminal John Demjanjuk is prepared to allow the defendant to replace his chief defense counsel, American lawyer Mark O’Connor. But the court will deny any motion to postpone the trial, which is scheduled to resume on July 27 after a one month recess.

Judge Dov Levin, who presides over the three-judge panel, made this clear to Demjanjuk at a special recess session Wednesday. It is a vital point because Demjanjuk, who is due to take the stand in his defense, is not certain that the new lawyer he selected, John Broadley of Washington, D.C., will have sufficient time to prepare himself.

He asked for more time to consider his plans, and Levin gave him until next Monday. Demjanjuk signed a letter on June 30 firing O’Connor. O’Connor said he was influenced by his family and Yoram Sheftel, the Israeli lawyer O’Connor hired for the defense team. O’Connor and Sheftel have had serious differences over the conduct of the trial since it began February 16.

Demjanjuk, speaking in his native Ukrainian, told the court Wednesday that O’Connor had “handled this case wrong from the start.” O’Connor, who sat with a bowed head and remained silent, had said earlier that Demjanjuk was “crestfallen” and “confused” over the consequences of his letter of dismissal.

Levin noted that according to Israeli law it was up to the court to approve a change of lawyer in mid-trial and up to the Justice Minister to allow a foreign lawyer to plead before an Israeli court. He indicated, however, that if Demjanjuk understands a postponement is out of the question, the court would agree to relieve O’Connor.

He also implied that Broadley would receive a special permit if Demjanjuk hires him.

The defendant told Levin that it would be up to Broadley to decide whether to retain Sheftel and O’Connor’s other assistant, John Gill, an American documents expert.

MUTUAL RESPECT SEEN

Observers at the trial say a mutual respect seems to have developed between Levin and O’Connor, although the latter has drawn occasional reprimands from the bench for long-winded, convoluted questions.

In contrast, Levin has had little patience with Sheftel. He has rejected some of the Israeli lawyer’s remarks as “chutzpah.” Sheftel’s motion before the trial recessed that no case had been made against Demjanjuk for the defense to answer was dismissed by the judge as “superficial.”

The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, 66, a former resident of Cleveland, Ohio, is accused of being the Treblinka death camp guard known as “Ivan the Terrible,” who operated the gas chambers. He has been identified by more than a score of witnesses, including a former SS man, Otto Horn, who gave testimony in West Berlin last month.

The defense contends that Demjanjuk was a German prisoner of war during the time he is alleged to have been at Treblinka. O’Connor has attempted to discredit the witnesses, questioning their memory after more than 40 years. He also charged that key documents identifying Demjanjuk as “Ivan” are Soviet forgeries.

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